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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Bluebirds Smash Way Back to Region Championship Game

Bluebirds Score 15 Runs in First Two Innings of Semi-Final Blowout

PHOTO: Bob Jackson. Highlands junior Drew Rom fires to the plate in the game against Beechwood on Monday. Highlands handled St. Henry, 15-1 in five innings to advance to its fifth region championship game in six years Tuesday.
Lately, the 9th Region Baseball Tournament at University of Cincinnati Health Stadium has been Highlands time.

The Bluebirds (24-12 overall) entered the semifinals Tuesday with a record of 11-3 in region play starting with the 2012 run to the region championship. Highlands had been to the region title game four of the past five years including wins in the title games the past two years.

But only one of those wins resulted in a Highlands run-ruling. That came by a 10-0 count in six innings against Beechwood on May 26, 2014. The Bluebirds outdid that taking out the St. Henry Crusaders, 15-1 in five innings.

"The scary thing is we've seen St. Henry put up some runs," said Jeremy Baioni, Highlands Head Coach. "They can swing it really well even against good pitching. So we weren't comfortable with 10 runs as a whole team. We wanted to keep it going and put up as many as we could because we knew it wasn't a safe number."

Highlands took out a red-hot Crusader squad. St. Henry had won 13 of its last 16 games entering the tournament including a 7-3 over the Bluebirds on May 13 in the Coach Conner Classic at Covington Catholic. The Bluebirds had beaten the Crusaders, 2-0 in eight innings on April 17 in Erlanger.

The Bluebirds put together 14 hits on 25 at-bats for an astounding .560 batting average in the victory. Senior Kyle Rust led the way going 3-for-4 with a triple, four runs batted in and three runs scored. Lead-off hitter Ethan Kavanagh also went 3-for-4 with three runs scored and a run batted in and Trey Bowden went 2-for-2 with three runs batted in, a sacrifice fly and a run scored.

"When I'm leading off, I just hope that I get on. do something for the team to get something started," Kavanagh said. "Once we get something started, we're hot. We get runs every time."

All nine slots reached base at least once. Eight of the nine had at least one hit and scored at least one run. Sam Hennigan also went 2-for-2 with a double, RBI and two runs scored. Kyle Finfrock and Brady Gosney also scored twice.

Highlands led 15-0 after two innings. St. Henry scored its lone run in the fourth inning.

The big lead let the coaching staff save some arms for the region championship Thursday. Starter Drew Rom pitched into the third inning before Hunter Dreves came on to record the final out of the inning. Dreves also pitched the fourth inning before Grady Cramer retired the side in the fifth to end the game. The three limited St. Henry to just three hits. Both teams committed one error each.

Dreves needed an outing like this to regain some confidence after a rough outing in the 36th District championship against Newport Central Catholic. He left with just one out in the first inning after the Thoroughbreds scored four runs. But the Bluebirds rallied to win 11-4. Dreves recorded four outs in the win Tuesday.

"It really helps you with your mental game," Dreves said. "Pitching is all mental. I was just trying to get outs and get the game going. It's great to know you have people behind you when you're down or when you're in your prime really."

Highlands scored 10 earned runs on 11 hits in the first inning sending 14 batters to the plate. Kavanagh and Rust singled to start the game and Bowden hit Kavanagh in. After St. Henry starter Stephen Maley struck out Ethan Doty, Rom doubled to right-center scoring Rust and Bowden to put Highlands up 3-0.

Sophomore Cooper Schwalbach came in to run for Rom. After Finfrock reached on a pop-up single in front of home plate that the St. Henry fielders appeared to lose in the sun, Hennigan singled to left scoring Schwalbach to put Highlands up 4-0.

Green then singled in Finfrock to make it 5-0 Bluebirds before Gosney singled to load the bases. Kavanagh singled to right plating Hennigan to make it 6-0 Highlands.

St. Henry made a pitching change at that point bringing in Kyle Crowe. But Rust tripled to center scoring Greene, Gosney and Kavanagh to put Highlands up 9-0. Bowden singled home Rust to plate the 10th run of the inning for Highlands before Crowe got out of the inning.

To start the second inning, Finfrock walked and Hennigan doubled him to third. Following a strikeout, Gosney walked to load the bases prompting St. Henry to bring on Max Epplen to pitch.

Kavanagh singled in Finfrock to make it 11-0 Highlands before Rust singled home Hennigan making it 12-0 Bluebirds. Bowden then lifted a sacrifice fly to left scoring Gosney.

Doty hit a ground ball to third. But the Crusader first baseman could not handle the throw allowing Kavanagh and Rust to score giving the Bluebirds their 14th and 15th runs of the game.

Some thought the game would end if Highlands held St. Henry scoreless in the top of the third. But in Kentucky high school baseball, the teams play to at least the fifth inning. A game ends after three innings in softball when a team leads by 15 or more runs in Kentucky.

Highlands plays either Conner (27-9) in the championship game Thursday back at UC Health Stadium. Game time is 7 p.m. The teams had two games scheduled during the regular season, but both were rained out.

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